German Nationalism

November 30, 2013 | | Comments Off on German Nationalism








The unification of Germany is a recent occurrence compared to most other nations in Europe. Notions of unification did not even begin to become fully articulated or acted upon until the beginning of the nineteenth century, with the advent of the 1815 German Confederation as well as the 1834 Zollverein Customs Union, and the unification was not finalized until 1871. This period in German history is characterized by much turmoil and conflict, as well as a major rise in industrialism, and subsequently, the use of nationalistic symbols and encouragements. With the rise of industrialization in Europe, Germany felt an increase in nationalism as well. With improvements in transportation on land and most importantly water, railroads, and other new and improved technologies, citizens of Germany acquired a new thought process: nationalistic ideals. One might ask what industrialization and nationalism have to do with one another, and the answer is simple: with new technologies and cultural improvements, the need to unify and defend one’s country becomes greater. For example, when a child acquires a toy that is semi broken and not necessarily new, the child’s motivation to play with that toy may not be great, and he or she will more than likely not mind sharing the toy with another child. But, if the parent of the child decides to fix the toy and make it shiny and new looking, the child’s motivation to play with that toy will become greater, and the chance of that child sharing his better and newer looking toy becomes less likely to happen; the child now likes his or her toy and will become possessive of it. This idea of acquiring a new and improved object runs parallel to the idea of nationalism becoming more popular due in part to industrializing one’s country. This was not the only reason that contributed to the rise of nationalism, but it did, however, play a big role in the minds of the citizens of Germany during this period of intense national and global change.


Shortly after Germany was unified, Bismarck led a “campaign against the Catholic Church” in Rome. This campaign during the 1870’s, known as the Kulturkampf, was Germany’s first assertion of the importance of its domestic affairs over its international relations (excluding conflicts regarding lands) as a unified country. The Kulturkampf, translated as “struggle for civilization,” personifies Germany’s literal struggle for unification of its people, even after the physical nation was unified. At the time, about forty percent of Germans were Catholic, and their religion played a key role in the cultural as well as political atmosphere of the nation, a fact that Bismarck particularly disliked, as he believed the Catholics to owe allegiance to the Pope before Germany. Bismarck’s concern was that because forty percent of the population was Catholic, and therefore followed the Pope (who was in Rome), forty percent of the population was not totally loyal to the country, and threatened the fragile unity of the newly created nation. In 1875, a political cartoon entitled “Zwischen Berlin and Rom,” meaning Between Berlin and Rome, was published in a German satirical magazine called Kladderadatsch. The cartoon was created by Wilhelm Sholz as a depiction of the conflict between Bismarck and the Pope in the form of a chess match. From the cartoon, one can clearly see that Bismarck is winning the conflict, as his character is winning the game in the cartoon. His victories over the Pope are shown in the amount of captured chess pieces off to the side of the board, illustrating how Bismarck was gradually pushing the Pope’s influence out of Germany by getting rid of Catholic religious leaders in secular positions. There is also a significant amount of symbolic meaning within the cartoon beyond the obvious illustration. By choosing to show Bismarck playing with white pieces, Scholz calls upon the typical cliché of the “good” versus the “bad.” Historically, the color white has been used to symbolize the forces of good, and by having Bismarck play with the white chess pieces, while the Pope plays with the black, Scholz imposes a symbolic message of which side should be considered beneficial to the German nation as a whole. The cartoon promotes a sense of national pride by depicting the two players in such a way, as not only is Bismarck portrayed as winning the game, but he is shown to be the morally correct one of the two men playing, which extends beyond the context of the chess game to imply that citizens of Germany should not give allegiance to any power other than that of their own nation. Such isolated allegiance as conveyed by the cartoon further emphasizes the push for nationalism that Bismarck spearheaded through his legislative initiatives during the 1870’s as a measure to reduce the fragility of the newly formed union of Germany as a country. Additionally, the sense of nationalism is revealed through the very fact that such a conflict as the Kulturkampf was being reduced to the importance of a simple chess match. Despite the political ramifications of the culture struggle that was ensuing, ultimately, Germany found the struggle to be won without a great amount of exertion, and this ease with which Germany managed this feat was another potential source of national pride that Scholz drew upon for his cartoon. Through his portrayal of the Kulturkampf as simply a game, Scholz managed to project even more of an argument in favor of German nationalism, and therefore was able to accentuate his promotion of strengthening German unity.



In addition to influential cartoons such as “Zwischen Berlin und Rom,” another popular form used to promote nationalism during this fragile time in German history was a song called “Deutchlandlied.” This song was composed in 1797 by Joseph Haydn, while the lyrics were written in 1841 by August Heinrich Hoffmann von Fallersleben, and became formally recognized as the nation anthem of Germany in 1922. Despite its lack of status as a national anthem during the struggle for unification and the subsequent struggle to build the unity’s strength, Deutchlandlied was very influential throughout both of those periods. When Hoffmann von Fallersleben wrote the lyrics, the German Confederation was not totally unified yet, and so he wrote the song in order to promote unifying the country as soon as possible for the benefit of all German speaking peoples. Fallersleben even goes as far with his then-revolutionary song to reference specific borders for a unified Germany in the fifth and sixth lines of the first stanza, based along linguistic lines. His first stanza not only identifies the extent to which the German state should reach, but it also calls all German speakers within its borders to action in favor of speedy unification. Both the first and the third stanzas urge the German people to be loyal to nothing above Germany, with the lines: “Deutschland, Deutschland, uber alles,” meaning “Germany, Germany, above all.” Fallersleben also more blatantly calls for “einigkeit und recht und freiheit/ fur das deutsche vaterland,” which translates to “unity and law and freedom/ for the German Fatherland.” Throughout the period of German unification, this anthem was sung by the revolutionaries of the 1840s to boost general morale during the many conflicts and struggles of the period, and as a symbol of national pride, as such songs usually are. Many patriotic singing societies and choral groups were created during this period as well, and in 1845, the first “German Choral Festival”  occurred, with its main focus on patriotic music.


Other symbols of German nationalism, such as monuments and architectural interpretations, also began to emerge during this period in German history.

The Hermannsdenkmal (“Hermann Statue”) is a famous monument that resides in Ostwestfalen-Lippe in Germany, placed there after the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71. The monument portrays Hermann, a war chief of the Germanic tribes in 9 AD. This monument represented (and to this day still represents) the unification of Germany (when it was being built it represented the hope for unification) and the idea of nationalist pride throughout Germany. By looking to their ancient past, Germans were inspired to have faith in their country and to fight against foreign influences.


Another representation of German nationalism is found with the Walhalla Temple located in Bavaria, Germany. This hall was erected in 1842 to honor distinguished Germans who contributed greatly to German culture. Along with the Hermann Statue, this hall is a manifestation of German nationalism and the proposed need for unification felt by German nationalists throughout this period in the form of a monument.



Nationalism was reflected not only by these artistic representations, but also by the actions and literary works of influential people such as Giuseppe Mazzini and G.W.F. Hegel, whose works affected not only German nationalism, but Italian nationalism as well. See the link below for an analysis of their influence done by Jessica Elder.

Influential Nationalists


Edits, additions, and consolidations of previous posts (Jessica Elder) by Megan Palmer



The Course of German Nationalism by Hagen Schulze

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